2018 144 Passenger "partial" conversion for 4 people / 4 seasons

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Here's my notes on converting our 2018 Passenger 144 for 4 season camping. This is a work in progress, but I've been at it for almost nine months, so the first posts will be getting caught up.

Some of these will be based on comments I've written on other's threads - I'm editing and moving them here to have my build documented in one place.

Acquisition:

We bought a brand new 2018 Passenger in August 2020 (yes - brand new - it had 36 miles on it). The van had originally been bought by RoadTrek and then auctioned off when their business changed. It came with two rows of seats (the 4 seater was missing), flares(!), and most of the interior ripped out. Our plan was to use it as a metal tent for a bit to figure out what we wanted. "We" equals 4 of us, my wife and I, and two boys ages 10 and 12.

Near the end of August I flew down to San Diego and drove the new van back to Seattle over two days and two nights. Camped at rest stops off I-5 sleeping on the floor. With two rows of seats the spacing was tight!
 

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Family camping trial run (mostly originally published 9/15/2020 as part of this thread)

At this point the plan is to try some temporary solutions to figure out what works for us and get us camping as soon as possible.

We left one row of seats. The first time we took it camping we solved the boys sleeping problem with a simple hinged platform for the front seats for the youngest, and a "pet hammock" in the first row for the oldest. My wife and I slept on an air mattress on the floor. The boys sleeping arrangements worked well, except the youngest has to get out the front doors, or crawl over brother to get to us. The air mattress for us was ok at best. Two problems - 1) An air mattress on a van floor is no more comfortable than in a tent; and 2) It takes a lot of room - leaving very little room for stuff (we left crates outside at night).

Bedding solutions v1:
  • Front row (for the 10 year old): I built this without upholstery - http://roadtreklife.blogspot.com/2012/06/folding-mattress-for-sprinter-front.html And instead of folding legs (which I couldn't source locally) I used SteelTek 3/4" fittings from Lowes. We use a twin size air mattress on top which we finish inflating in place to make a tight fit - works great.
  • First row (for the 12 year old): We bought this pet hammock from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083C41KT8. It's basically canvas that straps on the headrest of the bench seat and the headrest of the front row seats creating a hammock that doesn't allow him to roll into the foot wells. We put a air mattress on top (also finish inflating in place), and it gives him 60+ inches of sleeping space
  • Parents sleep on an air mattress behind the seats
Since then I've built a temporary platform that allows us to benefit from the flares and sleep across the van yielding us about 30" of floor space behind the bench seat. Additionally, the platform leaves us a ton of storage - Solving problem #2. Still need to solve problem #1- an air mattress on a platform is only slightly more comfortable that one on the floor

Bedding solution v0.2
  • Platform: I used 4 rivnuts on either side in the flat space below the windows. Using those I put in a 1/2 inch vertical piece of plywood that raises the mounting into the flare space. Then 2x4s laid horizontally from flare to flare. Middle legs to stabilize, and a 1/2" plywood deck. It's rock solid, I'm 6'3" and can sleep across the van, and the 1/2 verticals allow enough lateral wiggle that I'm not concerned about damaging the van.

 

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Coastal camping / Adding the basics (mostly originally published 10/16/2020 as part of this thread)

I’ve been pretty busy. We went camping on the coast, same bedding for the boys, and we slept on the platform - much better, but still an air mattress.

After the trip I installed swivels on both the front seats and ordered a 6” memory gel mattress from Amazon - the mattress seems very comfortable, but haven’t used it yet.

Last week (early mid-October) took out the floor, added sound deadening, filled the corrugations with neoprene, a thin layer of foam with a radiant barrier across everything, and then the original floor back in.

I planned on using rigid pink foam insulation in the van, using spray foam to seal it up. Best performance for the ease (DIY friendly) and cost. I spent a few long evenings getting this done. It was messy and unsatisfactory, but I did complete it. And I did so without breaking anything with the expanding foam (so I’ll call it a win). Just tonight (10/17) I finished insulating the walls and tomorrow we’re driving down to Portland to pick up some OEM Passenger wall panels (mine came stripped).

Oh, last week I also discovered leaking in my walls. When i turned the hose on the side of the van to figure out where the leak was, I found that nearly every side panel clip leaked! I found advice here on how to fix it, and did so - crazy on a nearly new van!

I also just ordered an Alpha 2700 Watt Hour “solar generator”

Next up is shore power, insulation in the ceiling (and lights), maybe start working on a long term bedding solution.

Also starting to look for someone to install a fan (I don’t want to work top of the van), replace the first tire glass with operating windows (sliders), and maybe install a diesel Heater. It’s proving hard to find someone willing to do small work in the Seattle area - everyone is booked with full conversions and isn’t interested.

Next time (Spoiler alert) I will use Thinsulate everywhere.

Products:
 

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Shore Power (End of October 2020)

No Documentation, but somewhere around the end of October / beginning of November I added shore power - Sorry, I didn’t seem to take any photos. I used a Noco AC port from Amazon. First I cut the plug off the wire. I Then drilled a hole in the trim panel between the driver side rear wheel and the bumper, then ran the wire through the vent behind this panel into the body cavity. From there I fed the wire up through a cable gland into the rear wall bay. The wire was fed into a GFCI outlet with night lights (so I’d have a visual indication that I was plugged in), and downstream from the GFCI I installed a surge protector outlet. That’s my power input.

Funny story the light was flashing on and off every time I grabbed the outlet box so I took it apart and checked all the connections multiple times - only to realize that the lights are hooked to a sensor - so when I’d grab the box I’d shade the sensor, and the light would go on, when I’d let go, it would go out.

This was the first exterior change that I made to the van, and I’m very happy with how it looks and functions.

Shore Power


Sorry about the dirt - this photo was just taken in the rain - six month after installation and a whole winter of driving
 
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House power v1

Installed the recycled interior panels I bought from an upfitter in Portland - it’s amazing how much nicer the van looks with paneling. It also feels nicer, sounds nicer (more insulation, and all the missing speakers), and my wife seems a little less embarrassed - so a win.

I received my all-in-one ExpertPower Alpha 2700 power system and put it in the van. The Alpha has now been strapped down in the rear of the van near the shore power outlets since November (it will move closer to the cabin when I rebuild the bed platform). After using the power pack for over 6 months I basically love it. I am disappointed with the 12v output options (basically just a 10 amp cigarette lighter outlet), and the inability to add a remote inverter switch, but in general the inverter and power pack work great. We can cook dinner (Usually in an Instant Pot), heat water for drinks and washing up, and use the milk frother for multiple days without charging.

The ExperPower Alpha 2700 power pack came with two 100w fold up solar cell panels - I haven’t done anything with the included solar panels yet.

While I was insulating I ran 18 and 12 ga wire for various perceived uses. I ran separate runs of 18ga for the lights and fans, and a 12 ga run to the passenger seat for the heater. Additionally I ran some runs for planned future additions: 18ga for USB outlets and dashcam, and 12ga for a refrigerator and water pump. (Note that looking back from four months later none of the wiring run is going to be used for its originally planned use (except - maybe - the dashcam)

I bought a cheapo switch / circuit breaker panel, which I thought I was going to regret, but figured I could easily replace. Actually I’ve had no problems and am still happy with it.

For now I unplug the van 110v system (currently still an extension cord) from the shore power outlet and plug it into the power station to switch back and forth - not ideal, but been living with it for six months and not really a problem. I just leave the power station charger plugged into the shore power outlet. Eventually I'll install two switches - one to switch the 110v source from shore power to power station, and one to switch the power station charger from shore power to inverter (to charge while driving)

Next time: I wish I’d upgraded the wiring. 12ga everywhere I ran 18ga, and 10ga everywhere I ran 12ga.

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wiring.png
 
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Upper insulation / Ceiling headliner modification / bolt points (first three weeks of November 2020)

Next it was time to insulate the ceiling. While I’d been picking up the interior panels the guy selling them to me showed me how he put in Thinsulate and gave me a piece to use for the slider. Needless to say I’m done using the rigid foam.

So I ordered the Thinsulate I needed and researched how to take down the headliner. I found some great videos, but freaked out when I realized none of them showed the side impact airbags. In the end it was easy to work around them, but they did scare me until everything was back together.

Starting at the front I took down each panel in order - the front one was the hardest, after that they came out pretty easy. I did break about a dozen of the panel clips, but that was expected and I’d already ordered replacements.

The Thinsulate was a dream to work with - super easy to cut and push into place, and not too hard to glue down. The glue (3M 90) is stinky, but I worked with all the doors open and the smell quickly dissipates (my wife is sensitive to chemical smells).

While working in the ceiling, I added plus nuts everywhere I thought I might need them (upper cabinets above the bed, hanging points behind the driver’s seat). I’d already had a rivnut installer, but was disappointed to find the one I had did not have a long enough mandrel to install plus nuts - so I ended up buying one off Amazon (actually three - because of a lost delivery, an ordered replacement, an automatic replacement, and then the tool being found - but after explanations and returns I ended up with one). Well worth the money.

I also wired up the ceiling lights and decided the eight I had bought were not enough - so ordered four more. I bought some cheap temporary dimmers and arbitrarily installed two zones - behind the second row seat (mostly over the bed) and in the cabin area. The two zones seemed silly for such a small space, but ended up working great when we’re trying to get the kids to sleep for early morning skiing, but we’re still getting organized.

While the ceiling panels were out I cut the holes for the lights and 1/2” access points for the plusnuts. To cut the light holes, drill a pilot hole, then run the hole saw backwards until it is through the ceiling fabric, then forwards the rest of the way through the headliner. I cut the future bolt holes with a drill hole punch - they were cheap, and awkward to work with - I kept having to sharpen them - but they did the job. I plugged the unused bolt holes with plastic plugs to keep things looking neat.

I then reinstalled the headliner. This is such a satisfying step, after weeks (at least for me) of everything being a huge mess it suddenly goes to nearly finished feeling!

Once the ceiling was back in, I installed some single point L-Track fittings that will be used to hang heavier things (like a bunk bed). I used a stack of washers so that these fittings could be tightened down without affecting the headliner.

Next time: I would put in way more plusnuts and document where they are just to have the flexibility in the future to add what I want.

Upper insulation / Plus nuts / ceiling lights
headliner removed.jpegheadliner removed 2.jpegLights in.jpeglights and insulation in.jpegtest fitting lights.jpeg
 
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More photos that go with the previous post. Probably the most interesting photo is the final one showing all the lights in, the headliner back in, and the "heavy duty" single point L-track fittings (two plusnuts each)rear panel in test.jpegcutting light holes.jpegheadliner back in.jpegtemporary dimmers.jpegceiling in with ac, hole plugs, and l-track fittings.jpeg
 

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Getting ready for winter camping! (Late mid-November 2020)

I bought compact traction mats and traction chains. We were ready to hit the mountains.

I bought a “luggable loo” and a popup tent for emergencies. I’d been informed that a late night winter walk was not acceptable should the need arise. We were ready to camp

I bought a set of old Sprinter wheels off of Craigslist. $100 for wheels (a little beat up) with ok tires and TPMS sensors. I had Costco put on Blizzak LT245/75R16 Snow tires on the “new” rims and install the tires the day before we were supposed to take the van skiing for the first time. Rude awakening - the mag wheels (what my van came with) use shorter lug bolts than the regular wheels (what I now have my snow tires on). Huge scramble, and nearly $200 later I was able to get a set of appropriate bolts from MB, and Costco was able to get my new tires on the car. Looks pretty ghetto, I wish I’d bought some MB wheel centers - may still do so at some point.

At the last minute I threw together some window coverings and built a ski rack (almost literally last minute - started working after kids went to bed and finished up after midnight).

For the window coverings I just used leftover (form floor insulation) foil backed foam duct-taped together to make big enough pieces (also allows them to fold). I cut them to shape using paper templates, and “bound” the edges using gaffer tape (like duct-tape, but with a nicer matte cloth look) - I placed magnets under the tape for the big windows, and in tape flaps for the front windows. We also used magnetic clips to hang a blanket in front of the sliding door as I’d never insulated it (still haven’t gotten around to insulating the doors yet)

I built the ski rack under the passenger side of bed (top foot) utilizing unused space. Skis can be easily accessed from the rear passenger side barn door and are mostly out of the way. In the back the skis are held down with a bungee cord, the fronts are held down with a wood bar held in place with a buckle strap. Only drawback is snowy skis defrost dripping all over the provisions. We’ve gotten good at brushing off the snow, but there is always some.

The rack could squeeze in six pairs of skis, but I ended up having to extend it into the driver’s side once we were into the season because we needed to be able to carry seven pairs. Worked, but the driver’s side is not as convenient and the rack got more in the way of our storage. Next year we might need to carry up to eight pairs (kids are getting into ski racing).

That first night we camped for two nights in the RV spaces in B-Lot at Crystal Mountain. I was a little worried because we’d never tested the insulation and did not have a real heater installed - but we did have a space heater, and the van would be plugged in. Turns out even in sub freezing temperatures the insulation is great - or four bodies puts out a lot of heat! Either way the space heater was more than enough and we woke up at the ski resort.

Still using bedding solution v0.2

The sense of elation when I stepped outside in the morning and saw the early morning light on the mountains - and realized this was going to work - was pretty incredible. It was tight, but it worked. My wife and I were so stoked - the kids just complained about the lack of bathroom (“that’s not a toilet - it’s a bucket”) and the lousy internet.

After this first winter camping trip I think we only missed 3 or 4 weekends camping at Crystal. And that was because we were at different resorts. The main trick learned is that if you’re staying more than three nights throw a hotel stay in the middle - more than two nights gets cramped - and stinky.

  • Traction Mats - these were frequently used later in the season - to help other cars
  • Chains (these work great - but MAKE SURE TO TRY THEM ON BEFORE YOU NEED THEM. I might tell this story later)
  • Luggable Loo - “It’s a bucket”
  • Toilet Bags - Do NOT run out
  • Windshield shade - I did not make the windshield cover
  • Gaffer Tape
  • Magnets
  • Magnetic clips - bought to hold up insulating blanked, but great for everything. When you live in a metal box, magnets are your best friend!
  • Pop-up toilet tent - This is not the one shown in the photos - that one ended up being a bit too transparent when lighted at night so we bought this as a replacement

Next time: I’d make the window coverings nicer. They were just made for the weekend, but six months later we still use them because they’re good enough. I’d also go straight to a nicer porta potty. I actually love the luggable loo, and the bags make it maintenance free, and it was only for emergencies. But the boys hated it, and it made camping in the van a negative experience for them.
 

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Fan / Heater install (Early December 2020)

When I first bought the van I started looking for someone to install the fan and heater for me. Fan, because I didn’t want the drama of cutting a hole in my roof - plus I was worried about leaking; Heater, because I didn’t want to deal with diesel. Yes, I’m a wimp. So I started calling around, I called everyone I could find on the net, and no one in the Seattle area was interested in small work - they were only accepting whole van conversion projects. Finally the Mercedes Dealer referred me to Mammoth Vans who was willing to do the work - in two months. I chatted with them a bit and explained that I’d be powering things from a power pack and that it was located on the driver’s side.

While I had the headliner out, I’d ran a 12ga wire from the switch board to the passenger pedestal - just to make things easier.

Anyway at the beginning of December Mammoth had a slot to get the work done. I dropped the van off, in the morning expecting the work to be completed the following day. Later that day I received a call saying I could pick up the van at 8pm - a day earlier than expected - awesome! When I arrived they were just test firing the heater (the standard Espar D2), but it was throwing an error instead of firing up. Lots of debugging, and it was decided that the wiring was not thick enough and that it was my fault for installing 12ga and I should take the van. I was put off by this as I wanted to know the heater worked before leaving - even if I had to rework stuff on my own. After explaining they agreed, and jumpered the heater straight from the battery pack with some rigged jumper cables… and the heater wouldn’t start. We then decided that the power pack wasn’t putting out enough amps on the 12v port and they agreed to wire the heater directly to the vehicle battery and did so. Somewhere close to midnight the heater fired up and I drove home.

I was a little frustrated with Mammoth for expecting me to leave without proving their install worked, but I want to recognize how far they went to satisfy me - there were two of them there working with me for almost four hours to make me happy. And the work they did looks and functions great - I would definitely hire them again (though they might not accept me as a client!) and would highly recommend them.

I was very frustrated with PowerExpert and/or Espar because the published specs for the PowerStation are that it can put out 12A 12v and the Espar should only need 8A while firing up the glow plugs - it should have worked. Yet it didn’t.

We went camping again at Crystal that weekend and both the heater and the new beds functioned flawlessly. But I stress about running the vehicle battery down using the heater for days without turning on the engine.

Back in Seattle I ordered some things from Amazon. The first was a heavy duty 12awg cigarette lighter cord - in case a higher quality plug would help. It didn’t. But I was able to plug it into the 25A 12v outlet in the front and the heater worked fine - so I did verify that it was my power station. The second thing I ordered was a 30A 12v power supply. I ended up using this plugged in to my house 110v to power the heater. This means I have heat when I’m on shore power, or I have slightly less efficient heat via the power station inverter when I’m not plugged in. This is the solution I’ve been using for the last 5 months - and probably 25 nights of winter camping. As a safety measure I left the heavy duty 12v cord in the pedestal - if the power station were to die while winter camping, I could open the pedestal access and switch the heater power to the cord (spade clips) and plug it into the 25v dash outlet - that would get us through the night.

fan.jpegthermostat.jpeg
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Next time: I think I’d stay with this solution. The heater is fantastic (Espar D2), and the fan is also fantastic (Maxxair 7500k). The hardware was expensive, and the installation was outrageous, but having someone else do the work was worth it to me here - I would have taken days and stressed the entire time. This setup has easily kept us warm down into single digit temperatures and the heater / fan combo has allowed us to ski in dry gear despite PNW conditions - dry heat and good ventilation was a game changer!
 

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Bunk bed build (day after getting van back from heater install - still Early December 2020)

After getting the van back, I started working on a bunk bed. The plan was to have a pipe berth (framed cot) that folded down from the ceiling on the driver’s side above the bench seat. The cot frame would pivot where it was attached to the wall (across the window - above head height so it would not block the view), and clip to the ceiling rings when stowed. When deployed it would hang from cables on the outside. In order to be long enough and not interfere with the driver when stowed or the platform bed when deployed, it needed to be able to slide forward at least a few inches when deployed. I built the frame out of SteelTek pipe and fittings - very easy to work with and available at Lowes. I started with a 1.5 inch steel square tube attached to the metal adjacent to the windows (behind the B-Pillar and in front of the C-Pillar) to space the bunk out so it would clear the B and C pillars. The pipe “rail support” I used is attached to this with thumb screws in additional plusnuts so the bunk can quickly be removed. I got my measurements and the canvas from a cheap folding cot. I had to modify the canvas to allow the cables to be able to attach and leave room for the wall side pipe to slide through. In the end the cot frame was 72 Inches long by 24 inches wide. Then I swaged three cables onto the frame to support the outside of the frame. When folded up the whole bed slides back about 5 inches and clips into the same ceiling rings. As a bonus all sleeping bags / pads and most pillows store up there when closed.

The bunk was designed to have down pipes that would take most of the weight and would slot into holes in the floor - but after seeing how solid the bed feels and doing the math (50% supported by wall, other 50% divided by the four cables - works out to about 17 pounds per roof strut (he’s about 110 lbs + 25 lbs of bed + 5 lbs of bedding) - or 8 lbs per plusnut, or a total of 70 pounds from the roof. I don’t see myself using the down supports and didn’t bother to cut holes in the floor. Granted, that’s all based on a static load - and he’s a 12 year old - but so far I feel comfortable with this. Crash test wise - well I’m not sure there. It’s relatively heavy (total of 16 feet of ¾” pipe + fittings = say 25 pounds?) - attached to the van with a total of 10 plusnuts (6 of those via ⅛ inch cable - loops double swaged). I don’t think it would kill anyone but I don’t want to test it.

That weekend we again camped in the snow at Crystal and the bed worked well. It’s still crowded, but no one has to go outside or climb over/under anyone else to in or out of bed!

Bedding solution v0.3:
  • The 10 year old switches out of the cockpit bed and into the first row hammock
  • The 12 year old moves to the newly constructed driver’s side bunk
  • We’re still on the temporary platform
Products:

Next time: The cot has worked extremely well, but since it’s a moving structure the set screws tend to loosen up and it’s come apart twice - once while he was climbing in! Next time I’d make the frame out of threaded pipe and fittings. As it is, one day soon I will take it apart and drill/tap a set of holes that goes through the wall of the pipe for a capture screw. I may at some point have someone make nicer looking canvas or replace the canvas with a wooden board and add a foam mattress.

As a reference, the total cost for the bunk (including plusnuts and hanging hardware - lots of which was left over) was about $250

Photo notes: The first three photos were taken before the forward and aft cables were added - before use I added two more support cables (the third photo looks especially weird without the cable, but I included it to show how the bunk fits with the driver's seat. The final photo shows the ceiling mounting hardware, and the way the cables clip in. On the front, the bunk is clipped to an eyebolt to keep it in traveling position - I had to do this as there wasn’t room for the two bolt connector because of the way the roof curves in the cab.

bunk up.jpegbunk down.jpegbunk without forward cables.jpgbunk detail.jpg
 
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Heater Snorkel (December 2020)

Most of December was a series of smaller projects that resulted in the van becoming more comfortable every day. By the end of the month the changes slowed down and the Sprinter stayed pretty much static for the remainder of the ski season. Over the winter we camped somewhere between 40 and 50 nights! The Sprinter is definitely working as a ski mobile!

I’d been reading about strategies for cutting down on condensation. While we were warm enough there was a lot of condensation behind the window coverings and that made me worry about what I couldn’t see in the walls and ceiling. Here and in other places I’d read about using the fan and the heater to bring in cold dry air and exhaust warm damp air. Cracking the window and leaving the dash vents open with the fan running about 30% helped dramatically, but didn’t solve the problem and I didn’t like the cold drafts. I’d started to think about adding a floor vent next to the heater in the passenger seat pedestal, but wasn’t quite convinced. As a test I cut a window filler out of a piece of foam puzzle flooring (3/8 inch EVA foam) and inserted a piece of 1” pvc pipe through it. An elbow on the outside points the pipe down to keep rain/snow from entering. On the inside another elbow and a longer piece of pipe ends at the heater intake in the passenger pedestal access panel. With the seats rotated to face into the van the pipe fits perfectly. I cut a 1/8" grove in the bottom of the foam panel for the window to slot into - as near as I can tell this is totally weather proof.

We also added a clothes hanging bar across the cockpit. With the seats spun things can be hung there and tucked behind the seat belts to keep them out of the way. When things are wet they can be spread out.

With the fan set to exhaust at 30% the snorkel changed everything - no more condensation - none! Additionally heavy wet outer gear dries incredibly fast and we’ve never had we gear the next morning!

One night we skipped the snorkel because we weren’t convinced it really made a difference. In the morning there was water dripping (and staining) from under the headliner in several places, and the windows were frozen over (on the inside). The difference is stunning. I wish I could patent this idea because it makes an amazing amount of difference for winter camping

Links:
Next time: The snorkel is great. I threw it together in 10 minutes with junk in my garage. The result was a bright red piece of foam in our window - ok for a test, but it’s six months later and we’re still using it. I should have made it out of a black piece of foam (and will at some point remake it)

snorkel closeup.jpeg
snorkel 1.jpegsnorkel 2.jpg
snorkel 1.jpg
cozy window.jpeg
 
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More room / Couch / Lower bunk / Table (December 2020)

While working on the van one evening my wife and I took out the bench seat and spun it against the driver’s side wall to use as a couch - the change was immense. We suddenly had space to live and things did not feel as claustrophobic.

I built some “sleds” out of scrap 2x4. Two layers of 2x4 with holes routed for the bench seat mounting hooks to fit into, additionally I added some 1/2" HDPF feet to help it slide them slide better. This brings the “couch” to roughly the same height as the driver’s seat. With the driver's seat spun and slid all the way forward (towards the back of the van) the bench and seat barely touched - making a nice long padded lower bunk! In the front of the sleds (which stick out about 2” in front of the seat) I drilled some 1” holes for 26” (I think) pieces of pipe to fit in. These keep the youngest from rolling off the seat. Looking at the pipe I grabbed a scrap piece of 1/2" plywood, routed the edges, mounted some 2x4s across the bottom, and drilled matching holes in the 2x4s - now we have a lower bunk (with safety rails), a couch, and a dining table. More importantly now there’s room to move!

This is now a comfortable living space. With winter camping / skiing there’s lots of downtime in the van and this set up makes it work. With two of us, the van is fantastic with plenty of room. With all four of us, it’s still tight, and only one or two people can be moving at a time, but visually it’s not closed in and and it’s much more pleasant.

Bedding solution v0.4
  • The 10 year old is now in the lower bunk with lots of grow room
  • The 12 year old is still in the upper bunk
  • We’re still on the temporary platform
Next time: This is the set up I would use again, the bench seat is heavy, and it’s very hard to put in the sleds and move with just one person - I’d like to find an easier way to do this. The sleds are ugly so I will probably remake them at some point (at least rounding the ends, and sanding the wood). Also the bench is not terribly stable when it’s in the sleds - it’s fine against the wall (tendency is to tip back), but often the sleds slip out of alignment when moving it to couch position. I’ll probably take the seat mounts for the second row (which we don’t use) and put them in the sleds when I remake them - that will hold the bench from tipping, and clear up one of the obstacles that has to be maneuvered over when moving the seat into camp (couch) mode. I also just threw the table together as a test - but it turned out very nice and I wish I’d put a finish on it as it’s now stained. We actually rarely use the table when all four of us are there because it’s more confining - I might remake it in a narrower format. But when it is used, it’s nice that all four of us can sit at it (two on the bench - a third is hard to add because there are two table legs), one in the spun drivers seat, and one either stretching from the passenger seat spun 45 degrees, or sitting on a cooler)

This is the current layout that we’re still using (6 months later), and if I build another 144 van, this is probably what I would choose. Because it takes some time to set up (spinning the bench seat is not easy) we’ll sometimes sleep in v0.3.1setup (bench seat left in place) if we’re just crashing for the night - that gets us to bed and out the next morning faster - about 15 minutes each way. It’s v0.3.1 because with the front seats spun and slid all the way forward (towards the back) we can skip the dog hammock when using an air mattress.

I don’t have great photos - if there’s interest, next time I have the van in camp mode I will try to take some better photos. 1st photo - very messy (#realvanlife), but you can see the lower bunk being sat on, the upper bunk being used, the clothes bar across the cockpit, and the overall “living” space. The second photo shows the two bunks in use - you can see the upright pipe "rails" for the lower bunk (also part of the table).

bunk down camping.jpegupper lower bunks.jpg
 

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Boot Box / Barn doors hanging insulation / sled storage (Q1 2021)

Over the rest of the ski season there were relatively few changes made to the van - we were too busy using it! Here are a few “hacks” that we added that I think are worth noting.

Boot warming / drying box: For ski gear storage (boots, helmuts, etc) we use the large black and yellow totes boxes available at Costco and other big box stores. My wife notices that when stacked the bottom box aligns with the heater. So we drilled at 3” hole at the heater outlet height and a few smaller holes near the top on the other side of the box. With the box in front of the heater it gets the boots warmed up and flexible in just a few minutes (needed to get my son’s race boots on). Additionally this box gets the wettest things dried in a few hours (if you ever have beers with me I can tell you about the time my oldest accidentally went swimming in the creek behind Crystal’s RV parking this winter). We do have an electric boot / glove dryer, but rarely use it. This is another idea I wish I could patent.

Floor insulation: The floor is cold! Even with the insulation I put in (sound mat, neoprene, foil backed foam) the floor is not comfortable - especially in the morning. And trying to keep things clean and dry mean that shoes (or ski boots) get taken off - so this was a problem. While the van was in “camp” mode I cut up some 1/2“ EVA foam floor tiles to fit around the slider step. This results in a much warmer and more comfortable floor. Additionally we have two squares (different color that the floor so we don’t mix them up) that sit outside the van to give a dry place to put shoes on / off. These all come apart and store against the wall (behind the boot boxes) while in travel mode.

Barn Door insulation: Two problems, one solution. I still haven’t insulated any of the doors in the van! It will happen eventually, but meanwhile another layer of insulation was needed between me and the barn doors for comfortable sleeping. Also, when leading skis into the van at the end of a snowy day it’s hard to keep snow off of the bed (especially if both doors have to be open). Add a little wind and the problem can be bad - a wet sleeping bag/ mattress could ruin a trip. To solve both these problems I replaced the “push” rivets holding the headliner in place along the back doors with screw in magnets. I then used gaffer tape to “mount” some large washers to the appropriate places on a quilted moving blanket. The blanket can almost instantly be hung up on the magnets providing me with a layer of insulation, and protecting the bed platform while leaving the garage space open.

Sled storage: The kids insist on bringing these foam snow sleds (like a long body board for you beach types). They’re always in the way - during the day they can be kept on top of the bed, but at night they have to be slid into the garage on top of the provisions - preventing easy access to the coffee supplies the next morning. I solved this problem by buying an appropriately sized elastic cargo net which I strung under the ski rack - it takes almost no space and gives us a place to store the sleds and the bathroom tent. Even better, with the sleds on top they catch whatever water drips off the skis keeping our storage area dry!

Extra storage: The plan is to eventually build some upper cabinets above the foot of the bed. Meanwhile I added a mini elastic stuff net across two fo the plusnuts I'd put in. Again, I used washers as spacers so the bolt could be tightened down without damaging the headliner. I bought the mesh bags designed for trunks, and added appropriately placed grommets. When I get around to it I will do this on the other side as well - it's just to convenient to have additional storage.

Links:
Next Time: I’d make the barn door curtain out of a nicer blanket. Again, I just used what I had handy as a “test” but again it worked well enough that I’ve had to deal with it for the whole winter. At some point I’ll remake it with a cheap thinsulate blanket cut to size with the edges and washers sewn up. I’ll probably add two more magnets in the top push rivet on each side - to spread the curtain more.

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Inverter for charging power station while driving (April 2021)

A few weeks ago we were doing a longer ski trip down to Mt Hood. The plan was to potentially camp on the way down, and definitely camp for a few days on the way back. Given that there was not going to be an opportunity to charge while we were down there I was concerned that we could run out of battery. So I decided to do a quickly temporary inverter install. I’d previously purchased a 500w pure sine wave inverter for this purpose with the plan to install it in the passenger pedestal with an external switch to manually switch on when needed. For the temporary install I placed it on the floor between the seats and plugged it into the 25A 12v port in front, then routed an extension cord back to the power station. This worked and we set off.

About an hour into the trip I checked the inverter and it was no longer powered. That night I checked the fuse (it’s the only maxi fuse in my van) and it seemed alright, but no power was getting to the port. We survived the trip without additional power (we were careful, and the power station finished the trip with more than 40% left).

I ordered a replacement fuse (actually a self resetting circuit breaker instead of a fuse) just in case, and started to research possible issues. When I got home I checked the fuse with the meter, and it was in fact blown even though visually I could not tell. When the circuit breaker came installed it, and everything worked again. Since then I’ve used the inverter and have not had a problem - I seem to charge about 10% (270 watt hours) for an hour driving.

Long term I’ll install this under the seat hooked up to a relay so that it won’t run while the car is off (the 25A outlet is un-switched), I’ll also hardwire it using the fused wiring that goes directly to the battery (left there from the initial heater install). I believe this will cover my normal charging needs allowing me to skip permanently installed solar.

Links:

Next time: I wouldn’t rely on a system that had not had a burn in period. I probably wouldn’t even install this in a test setup as it’s too easy to leave the inverter on while the car is not running - potentially stranding us.
 

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Musings (May 5, 2020)

I’m now caught up with my Sprinter conversion project to date. Now that ski season is over (the mountain closes this Sunday - so one last skiing camping trip) I should have some time to resume the conversion - time to get ready for summer road trips. Going forward I’ll try to update this build thread as I take on further projects. I’m getting close to the point where I think I know what I want so I will be rebuilding / refining things with an eye to making them permanent.

Upcoming projects:
  • 110v source switching (both for house 110 and power station charging)
  • Bed rebuild (planning on using unistrut and adding built ins on the living side)
  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom

Pretty photos from the last 8 months of Sprintering

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